So, when last we saw a world without nuclear weapons, human beings were killing each other with such feverish efficiency that they couldn’t keep track of the victims to the nearest 15 million. Over three decades of industrialized war, the planet had averaged around three million dead per year. Why did that stop happening?

Is it because people no longer found reasons to fight? Hundreds if not thousands of wars, small and large, have been fought since Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Is it because nations and tribes found a conscience regarding mass death? Clearly not — the slaughter in China during the Cultural Revolution, in Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge, in Rwanda between Hutu and Tutsi offer bloody proof. Is it the United Nations? Um, no. Is it globalism, and the web of commerce that increasingly connects the interests of the major powers? Yes, that certainly has an impact. But the global economy is a creation of the nuclear age. Major powers find ways to get along because the cost of armed conflict between them has become unthinkably high…

As bad as they are, nukes have been instrumental in reversing the long, seemingly inexorable trend in modernity toward deadlier and deadlier conflicts. If the Nobel committee wants someday to honor the force that has done the most over the past 60 years to end industrial-scale war, they will award a peace prize to the bomb.